TV Christmas specials are often, deservedly, much maligned. Take the 2008 The Royale Family special which was truly farcical, retaining none of the wit and gentle humour of the earlier series (or indeed earlier Christmas specials). In addition to the utterly bizarre, the episode reduced the characters of Dave and Denise to caricatures of their former selves. Dave was by no means the most intelligent of characters, but the actions in this episode made you wonder how he and Denise actually functioned on a day to day basis.
Yet, when on form, a Christmas special can be a worthy addition to an already wonderful series (note the series has to actually be good in the first place to generate a worthwhile Christmas special).
Him and Her ‘The Christmas Special’ 2012
I adore the tragically underrated Him and Her, the series, in its best moments brings to mind Beckett, with Steve and Becky standing in for Hamm and Clov in Endgame. Nearly every episode (aside from the final wedding series) takes places in Steve’s flat and the Christmas special intelligently follows this format.
Indeed, nothing is really different about the episode, there are no hyperbolic surprises or moments of the truly absurd, and that is what helps it to be so successful. Steve and Becky are still perpetually trying to have a moment to themselves whilst Becky’s sister Laura appears, as ever uninvited with fiancé Paul and friend Shelly in tow. What makes Him and Her so sublime for me, is the truly believable connection and affection between Becky and Steve. The pair are utterly in love with one another, which is why Steve puts up with Laura’s constant impromptu arrivals.
The Christmas special is no different: the pair are as in tune with one another as ever and when Steve’s estranged dad arrives, it is Becky that understands how Steve is truly feeling.
Community’s meta, self-aware approach is for me, one of the most enjoyable aspects to the show. I love the intelligent and knowingly ridiculous approach, I also appreciate its unique approach to narrative. The series has, in its time featured episodes that have featured the characters as participants in a video game, and its approach to this Christmas special was as refreshingly inventive.
The episode features Abed, suffering through a psychological crisis in which he believes that he, along with all of his friends have turned into stop-motion characters. The episode in its musical interludes and homage to a variety of Christmas films (including The Polar Express) ensures that the episode retains the series’ trademark cynicism and humour, but is able to match this with some truly poignant moments as Abed realises that he will struggle without his friends over the Christmas period.
The group’s dogged determinism in helping their friend, joining in with his fantasy despite their fear and concern, avoids cliché and instead is genuinely affecting.
The Office Christmas special part 1 and 2
The second season of The Office did its utmost to make the character of David Brent more sympathetic. Thus, the cocky, unnaturally arrogant man is reduced to a pitiful man who is struggling to retain any sense of dignity. It also, intelligently, returned to the format and the concepts that made the show so successful in the first place.
As such, the show finds a plausible way to reunite all of the characters, including Dawn who is currently carrying out a relatively miserable existence in Florida. Tying all of the series’ loose ends together and, unusually, giving the audience the ending that had been wished for all along.
With the Christmas special, Gervais and Merchant set out to please their fans and not only ensured to maintain the style of the earlier episodes, but selected an ending that was wonderfully subtle and emotional without resorting to grand gestures.
Peep Show uses, intelligently, the same approach as the Him and Her Christmas episode. It doesn’t stray from the usual format of the series, the characters act in the exact same way as they have always done, in fact the only difference is the day itself.
Mark’s hitherto rarely seen family join him and Jeremy for Christmas dinner; his father, it is revealed, is an angry, tyrannical man who is prone to random outbursts. He treats Mark with contempt, proffering a second hand present which raises little consternation from his sister and mother.
Playing on the awkward family dinner trope, the episode’s success stems from the humorous interjections courtesy of Super Hans, along with the usual temerity provided by Jeremy.